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“I went through a stage where I would walk into whatever room my father was in and turn the lights off. I never told anybody why, but I was trying to make him disappear.”

Michael Kimball’s father is dead, and so is Daniel Todd Carrier’s. Big Ray, Kimball’s fourth novel, uses hundreds of brief entries to artfully and empathetically explore the loss of a father—in particular, one who wasn’t very good; one who was, in fact, appalling. Begun as a memoir, Kimball turned it towards fiction because he wanted “more control over how it was told, a fiction writer’s prerogative,” and the result is a story clearly set in the truth of a writer who lived this relationship in all of its ugly, dark recesses. Hinged on the border between love and hate, between redemption and condemnation, Big Ray is a tremendously beautiful novel that tackles death and obesity and child abuse and forgiveness from a strikingly new perspective.

It’s always a joy to sit down and talk with Michael Kimball. He’s into his cats, he plays softball (and is quite competitive!), he likes music, and he wears interesting T-shirts that make you want to scoot your chair back so you can get a good look. BIG RAY is Michael’s fourth book and, I think, his most intimate and moving. Whereas his other novels (Us, The Way the Family Got Away, Dear Everybody) all deal with loss of some sort, and are touching and powerful, BIG RAY emotionally dives down to a whole new level. You can’t help but be somewhat changed after reading this book.

Here’s what Michael Kimball has to say about BIG RAY:

[1967]

Dear Mom and Dad,

I didn’t know that I was two weeks late and that you were waiting for me. But it always made me feel special to know that Ingham County had to send a snowplow out to our house. It always made me feel special to think of Dad driving the car so slowly behind the snowplow and Mom with her hands on top of her stomach as if I were an important, but breakable, package. I always thought that there was some important destiny in that for me. I always thought that the path that was cleared through all of that cold and snow was somehow going to determine the rest of my life.

Why are you a writer?

It happened by accident. I grew up in an ungrammatical family. There weren’t many books in the house, mostly just the Lansing State Journal.